Yesterday, one of the umpteen 2020 challengers of Sleazy Don, Cory Booker, announced a plan to reduce gun violence which should be taken seriously, because Cory lives in Newark, so he should know something about guns. Seriously, his plan goes further than any of the other gun-control plans so far announced, because he’s calling for some kind of national gun licensing. To quote the Senator, “If you need a license to drive a car, you should need a license to own a gun.”
I have to hand it to my Gun-control Nation friends. Who would have ever imagined that coming up with an approach to gun violence would become a de rigueur requirement for a 2020 national campaign? Can it actually be the case that the NRA Emperor doesn’t wear any clothes? Maybe he never had any clothes in the first place.
Booker’s plan to create a national licensing system is something of a muddle because he wants the system to be run by the FBI but the actual vetting will be done by the local police. So even if the devil is in the details, the bottom line is that Booker has just injected the unmentionable into the gun debate, namely, that ownership of all guns needs to be regulated the same way no matter where the gun owner happens to live. If nothing else, his plan is an implicit recognition that the patchwork of state and local gun laws that currently exists simply doesn’t work.
But why doesn’t it work? According to current research, places with more lax gun laws have more gun deaths. Conversely, jurisdictions with stricter laws have fewer gun deaths. Incidentally, before I go further, note that gun violence is defined only in terms of mortality rates when, in fact, gun deaths probably constitute less than one-third of all injuries caused by guns. But the data on non-fatal gun injuries simply can’t be trusted, so we are making the assumption that the relationship between gun laws and gun deaths would also hold true if we could count all the injuries caused by guns.
Much of the argument that more laws = less gun violence rests on data from Massachusetts, where I happen to live. I have also been a gun dealer in Massachusetts since 2001, so I know how the system in this state works and doesn’t work. And what I know is that if anyone wants to use Massachusetts as a template for how stricter gun laws results in less gun violence, they are creating an argument that has as many holes in it as a slice of swiss cheese.
Here is what the experts say about the Massachusetts law.
- David Hemenway: “All other things equal, [places] where there’s strong laws and with few guns do much better than places where there’s weak laws and lots of guns.”
- Cassandra Crifasi: “The end impact is you decrease gun ownership overall, and then you have fewer firearms around, and less exposure.”
Note the caveat; i.e., the number of guns. In other words, is it the severity and comprehensiveness of the laws per se? Is it that there were less guns in a particular locality before a new gun law was passed? Is it a combination of both or maybe something else?
The current regulatory system in Massachusetts, which makes it one of the most regulated of all the states, dates from 1999. Since that date, the aggregate gun-violence rate in Massachusetts is the lowest of all 50 states. Prior to 1999, the Massachusetts gun-violence rate was the second-lowest state rate. Now in fact, the gun-violence rate in Massachusetts under the more restrictive law is lower than it was before that law was passed. However, the gun-violence rate also happens to be lower in the other 50 states.
The truth is that the relationship between gun laws and gun violence is a classic case of the chicken and the egg. What we don’t need is to hatch the egg and wind up with a turkey, okay?